May 12, 2009

Absurdly Strained Neutral POV

Brendan Nyhan wrote a ridiculous post, and it's ridiculous right from the title:
Liberals go soft on Sykes's Limbaugh "jokes"

Putting "jokes" in quotes implies that they aren't really jokes, and the rest of the title implies that they deserved being gone hard on, whatever that means. Such a title is not a good sign that the body of the post will be well thought out.
there's no avoiding the fact that what comedian Wanda Sykes said about Rush Limbaugh at the White House Correspondents Association dinner was loathsome

Fact? Loathsome?? Give me a break! Humor can only be loathsome when it mocks or humiliates the weak and powerless. The way Brendan describes it, one would think that Rush Limbaugh is a rape victim or a mentally retarded person - those would be likely targets of loathsome jokes - and not the man whose words make the most powerful Republican politicians soil their pants if they let slip a less-than-flattering opinion of him.
Adopting the language of GOP attacks on dissent since 9/11, Sykes equates Limbaugh's political speech with treason and compares him to a terrorist.

Um, no, Brendan, she satirizes him, making him the target of words paraphrasing his own. I don't think you'd get a good grade in an English class if you didn't recognize what was going on. That she is a comedian and was speaking as one at an event that was supposed to be comedic might be a hint, too.
Like many conservative talk show hosts, she also uses aggressive language expressing a desire for a political opponent to be physically harmed -- specifically for Limbaugh's kidneys to fail and for him to be waterboarded. This echoes the practice of many conservative hosts who make "jokes" about waterboarding liberals.

That's a patently fallacious comparison: those conservative talk show hosts were not joking when they said it, or at least I am not aware of any theory of humor that encompasses their statements. They were trash-talking or bullying, which a lot of people evidently confuse with joking, but I would hope that a PhD in political science wouldn't be among them. There is no discernible intent of irony, surprising incongruence, absurd, or exposing the target's hypocrisy in waterbording "threats" that come out of mouths of babes like Limbaughs and O'Reillys. They are just expressing aggression. By contrast, Sykes was obviously applying standard satirical forms. She "echoed" her targets' words, all right, but that's a standard tool of her trade. But Brendan is implying that the echoed words are morally equivalent to the originals. That is just absurd.
What's striking is how liberals -- who were frequently outraged about accusations of treason during the Bush years -- have sought to downplay Sykes's comments.

Wow! It is striking that people understand the difference between earnest accusations and jokes! Or between bullying and satire! How remarkable! Oh, wait... isn't it more striking that a professional analyst of political communication cannot tell the difference?
Of course, as Media Matters and Tapped's Adam Serwer pointed out, Limbaugh makes similarly offensive "jokes" on his show attacking dissent and comparing liberals to terrorists. And yes, he is far more powerful and influential than Sykes. But if it's wrong when Limbaugh does it, then it's wrong when Sykes does it too.

It would be if they were doing the same thing, but Brendan's pox on both their houses is logically similar to stating that if it is wrong to kill for material gain, then it's wrong to kill in self-defense. The fallacy is in asserting (without support and contrary to evidence) that two superficially similar acts are the same.
The hypocrisy here is staggering (especially in the Media Matters case).

The idiocy of Brendan's post is the only staggering phenomenon here. But it gets worse:
Imagine that a conservative comedian had accused Keith Olbermann of treason at the WHCA dinner back in 2004 and said he should be waterboarded. Would liberals have minimized the comments as "jokes" and catalogued all the offensive things Olbermann has said on his show? I don't think so.

That is extremely stupid, and Matt Yglesias aptly calls Brendan's bullshit:
But these aren’t symmetrical cases. Jokes advocating that conservative proponents of waterboarding should be subjected to waterboarding make a real political point, namely that this practice the right dismisses as “dunking” is, in fact, horrifying torture. The point of the joke is that this would be clear enough to Limbaugh if it was done to him. A comparable case, I guess, is if a conservative comedian were to say “if Keith Olbermann likes higher taxes on the wealthy so much, then he should have to pay higher income taxes, too!” But I don’t think Olbermann or his fans would find that particularly stinging since I take it he already understands the basic implications of Obama’s tax policies.

Brendan noted and quoted that, and had a chance to graciously say "Touché!" - but instead he just dug himself deeper:
First of all, it's not clear that Sykes was making a point about Limbaugh's support for waterboarding -- if that was her intent, she didn't make it especially obvious. The more general point was calling for physical harm to Limbaugh, which was quite clear

I can't believe this was written by the same guy whom I put on my blogroll. Last time I checked his blog, he had a brain. Where and when did he lose it?

Oh, by the way, Brendan didn't criticize the artistic value of Sykes' jokes anywhere in his post, so that issue is irrelevant to the discussion. But to prevent attacks on straw men, l'll say that I found the quoted jokes lame; however, my arguments do not depend on the artistic value of the jokes at all.

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